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Gallagher Hospice Social Workers Help Patients and Families

By Nancy Kennedy


The mission of Gallagher Hospice is for patients and families to find comfort and courage in our care, says Jane Barthen, M.S.W., a hospice social worker who is a key member of the Gallagher Hospice team. When there are no further curative options for a patient, Gallagher’s interdisciplinary team of hospice professionals care for and support families as well as the hospice patients. They build a trusting relationship with each patient and family and offer care that is state-of-the-art, personal, self-determined and respectful.

The fulfillment of this noble mission is a privilege, says Barthen. “Our focus is quality of life for the rest of your life. We help people die with dignity, courage and peace, while alleviating suffering. We want to help the patient meet the goal of dying at home, surrounded by family or passing peacefully wherever they call home.”

Hospice care is Barthen‘s chosen life’s work, and she finds enormous satisfaction in it. She found inspiration in her personal experiences with her parents, both of whom received excellent hospice care. “I witnessed the impact of hospice care on my parents’ quality of life and knew that this was what I wanted to do. Nursing was my goal while I was attending Carlow University; I then earned a graduate degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. This was the foundation for a 42-year social work career, including the last 15 years in hospice social work.”

Gallagher Hospice, a Medicare-certified hospice company based in Bridgeville, was created in 2016. Barthen came on board at the beginning of the hospice program and takes great pride in the achievements of the interdisciplinary team. “Our team is comprised of four hospice social workers, registered nurses, hospice aides and chaplains. We also have bereavement counselors, mental health professionals and volunteers available as needed. We are assigned to new patients and we complete an assessment to identify needs. We ask permission to visit and we see patients in their homes as well as other settings, such as assisted living, group homes, skilled nursing facilities and independent living centers.”

Barthen and the Gallagher Hospice team approach new patients with sensitivity, recognizing that they are likely to be feeling overwhelmed. “If the patient has just received the diagnosis and prognosis, they need time to take that in and process it. We may just talk on the phone at first. The nurse case manager oversees the clinical needs and supports the team in the setting.”

“There are many roles for a hospice social worker; first and foremost among those roles is to be a good listener, assessing needs, providing support as well as resources, and validating feelings of both the patient and family. Spiritual counseling can be a great source of support as well. The clinical care of the end-of-life patient is focused on symptoms and pain management rather than on tests and numbers. If symptoms are managed, a better quality of life is achieved. The goal is always achieving the best possible comfort experience.”

Caregivers can easily become worn out, physically and emotionally, says Barthen, so caring for the caregiver is part of the Gallagher mission. “There are many sources of support: hospital groups, private counselors and churches may have support groups. We offer excellent bereavement services for families.”

Hospice is challenging on many levels but according to Barthen, the rewards far outweigh the stress. She says that she copes by practicing good self-care: “I read and do scrapbooking to relax. I know that in order to be able to help others, we have to take care of ourselves. At the end of each day, I know that I work with the best co-workers and I believe that I helped someone have a better day.”

Barthen believes that many more people could benefit from hospice services, but aren’t given the opportunity. “There are persistent myths about hospice and I wish we could eliminate those so people would see the advantages. One of the myths is that hospice means giving up but that is not true. It’s a change of focus to quality of life, from cure to comfort. We try to educate our communities to be more open-minded about hospice so that we can at least discuss what it can offer to each individual person. Another problem is that referrals often come late, when a longer relationship would be more beneficial.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has called upon the Gallagher Hospice staff to assume a larger role in supporting end-of-life patients and their families. “The COVID pandemic has impacted everything we do. With restrictions on visiting, families may be unable to be with their loved one. As a medically necessary service, we can go in to provide care, emotional support and spiritual care when the family cannot. Our staff may be the only support the family has.”

For more information about Gallagher Hospice, call (412) 279-4255 or visit the web site, www.gallagherhospice.com.

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